Less by Andrew Sean Greer

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Arthur Less is a man with whom I can empathize, if not necessarily identify. A commitment to a self-abnegating vision of everything that happens to him sets him off on a globe-trotting voyage, not of self discovery, really, but of self-affirmation, that he truly is as wretched as his self-perception. So despite Greer’s mastery of language and form making for a number of entertaining asides, entry into this novel was sort of boring–another voyage of middle age self discovery. But the brilliance of this novel is how Greer contrasts this narrative with the views we get of Less from the other people in his life. The character that emerges is quite different. Certainly we see Less’ dorkiness, which seems to be his principal self criticism, but we also see a man perceived as successful–handsome, erudite, thoughtful, desirable, lovable. Watching Less struggle to maintain his existing self-perception againts the gradually accreting evidence to the contrary is the principal joy of this book. This leads us to the end, where the POV suddenly changes from the close third of the narrative to the first person of another character–we escape from the confines of Less’ mind. Does he?
The Pulitzer committee certainly appreciated Greer’s artistry in pulling this off with such grace, but to me this book is a lovely diversion. Worth reading, certainly, but I like my award-winning books to be a more demanding.

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